When President Bush made the case for war
in Iraq, he extolled the virtues of removing a maniacal dictator:
one who had a record of not only gross war crimes, but also
extensive domestic human rights violations. The reign of Saddam
Hussein, without a doubt, will be remembered as a period of
atrocious brutality and nefarious cruelty. However, in light of
recent revelations that expose the horrific treatment of captured
Iraqis, the President’s claim of “liberation”
rings hollow.

Mira Levitan

Last week, the world became aware of various prisoner abuses at
the American-operated Abu Ghraib prisoner of war camp located west
of Baghdad. Reports and photographs tell the tale of POWs that were
made to strip naked and pile into pyramids while other allegations
claim that prisoners were forced into imitating or performing
sexual acts. One well-known picture shows a blindfolded man
connected to wires, standing on a small box. The man, according to
multiple sources, was told he was to be electrocuted if he fell
off.

At the most fundamental level, the behavior of the United States
Military Police, who perpetrated the acts of brutality against the
Iraqi prisoners is an affront to the most basic values enshrined by
America’s democracy. The actions of those at Abu Ghraib,
while short of torture, are contrary to the ideals of decency and
respect we hold high in our laws. The American public has,
rightfully so, reacted with anger and disgust.

While the actions of a few fail to describe any general pattern
of behavior, they nonetheless cast a shadow of doubt over the
entire United States military. In addition, the military is not
merely a collection of soldiers; it is greater than the sum of its
parts, serving as a representative of the United States around the
world. Thus, the implications of these abuse allegations go beyond
simply those who were involved; the entire nation stands to lose a
great deal of credibility. Even though the Bush Administration has
publicly condemned the abusive treatment of prisoners,
America’s reputation has already been damaged.

For the Bush Administration, already unpopular because of the
way it handled the Iraq crisis in front of the United Nations, this
new complication presents an unforeseen problem. As a signatory to
the Geneva Convention, the United States is bound to respect the
rights of prisoners of war. Recent developments in Iraq have, no
doubt, called into question American commitment to the conventions.
If the Administration is hoping to draw support from allies to
fight the continuing war on terror, the United States must not
appear indifferent toward international treaties and standards on
human rights. On a larger scale, the United States must not
squander the respect it inspires as a leading force for
democratization by getting mired in accusations of POW abuse.

Ultimately, our commitment to both values of human decency as
well as international law must not be mere lip service from the
high echelons of government. Instead, ours must be a commitment in
the form of action; Down to every last soldier who wears an
American uniform and represents the American people, the principles
dictated by the Convention and morality must be upheld.

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